Not OK on K Street: Old-school downtown Sacramento businesses suffer on the eve of arena construction

Groups asking for community benefits from Kings blocked out

Sheila Finch is a survivor of the K Street experiment. She owns Alley Cuts hair salon, just across Seventh Street from Downtown Plaza.

Bites talked to her just days ahead of the final vote on the Kings arena plan and the beginning of demolition of the mall. The city still hadn’t contacted Finch about how the arena work would impact her business. Nothing about street closures, or foot traffic, or dust and debris. “No communication at all,” she said.

Finch’s neighbor Mike Doyle, who owns the watch-repair shop next door, was frustrated, too. “They haven’t been telling us anything. Just some basic information would help us prepare.”

Finch and Doyle have each been in business at their current locations for nearly 30 years—through three decades of various K Street redevelopment schemes. It may surprise you, but they say the city has a track record of being sort of half-assed when it comes to executing projects on K Street.

For example, back in 2010, the city took out a grassy area at the corner of Seventh and K and built a water park, part of a $4.5 million redo of the old plaza. But the water was never turned on, because the city forgot to include a bathroom and shower, required by county law.

So, on a warm day, it forms a giant heat island instead of an attractive fountain.

“This used to be a grassy area, and now it’s just this heat radiator,” Finch explained, laughing and shaking her head.

K Street didn’t get this way because of a lack of pretty drawings or public investment. It was bad planning.

All around the abandoned water park are empty storefronts. “The city took them and forced the businesses out. Then they just sat there,” Finch said. The neighborhood deteriorated over the years, as the city threw money at what Doyle described as, “all the bullshit plans that never came through.”

Now Downtown Plaza is empty, too, waiting for the wrecking ball. Finch’s business has plunged. “I’m off $500 a month since Christmas,” said Finch. But both Finch and Doyle just had their rent increased by their landlord. “I’m pretty sure it’s related to the arena,” Doyle explained.

The arena project is supposed to energize the blocks around the mall and generate more economic activity to benefit nearby businesses. “I think a grocery store and a park and some apartments would have done that better,” Finch countered.

Doyle also wonders if he’ll be forced out. “I think some landowners are rubbing their hands together. So maybe some guy with a sports bar comes in, it would be good for him. Maybe not for me.”

For the last few months, a coalition of community groups called the Sacramento Coalition for Shared Prosperity has been pushing for a “community benefits agreement” to be part of the arena plan. CBAs are common practice in cities that approve big development projects. They help spread around some of the benefits of the project and help offset some of the costs to local businesses and residents who are impacted.

The SCSP is asking for affordable-housing development and additional support for homeless services; transit passes and vanpools for arena workers; and a loan fund to help small businesses make improvements, expand or buy new equipment—among several other requests.

But it’s been stonewalled by city officials. Then, out of the blue on Monday, the Sacramento Kings and Mayor Kevin Johnson announced the creation of the Sacramento First community-advisory panel to discuss community benefits. It’s the usual Johnson approach of branding over substance. Heading up the panel, the mayor’s chief of staff, Daniel Conway, his city-council buddy Allen Warren, and the Kings attorney Clothilde Hewlett. No one from the SCSP was invited to join.

That’s because the mayor’s handpicked panel is really meant to undercut the coalition and water down the idea of community benefits. Call it community-benefits lite. (Read more in this week’s News feature, “Benefits doubt” by Nick Miller, on page 9.)

So, keep an eye out for a lawsuit, likely using the California Environmental Quality Act, to try and leverage a better community-benefits plan. The smear artists at Region Builders and at The Sacramento Bee will call the litigants “obstructionists”—anyone who objects to a rip-off is an obstructionist. They’ll bitch about CEQA abuse. They believe courts are for invalidating citizen petitions and exercising eminent domain, not for grubby community groups to demand handouts. Those handouts are already spoken for, by the Kings.

And the demolition will begin, and some people will get rich, and others will get hurt. And the city will likely handle the whole thing with the same careful consideration and attention to detail that it has always brought to its K Street projects. Though hopefully not.